How many options are enough options? But are really enough options enough ? A willing, creative and an active student when given the opportunity to choose from a list of 4300 courses and 532 societies, the feeling is definitely an overwhelming and a satisfactory one. Northwestern University is one such destination in the ocean of pathways. The United States is one of the most preferred destinations for studying abroad, not only gives you the bowl of areas that you are interested in but also serves you the platter of potential internships, work experience and extracurricular activities.
The United States lays a vital emphasis on interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary learning. Students are given ample time to explore different subject fields before finalising their academic specialisation and career choices. Students typically spend the first two years of their undergraduate degrees before ‘declaring’ their major at their university/college. Moreover, the option to complete your undergraduate with an ‘undeclared’ major can always be availed by students.
This premium on exploration and understanding is perhaps why professional courses like law and medicine in the United States are only available at the graduate level. This implies that students cannot pursue an LLB or MBBS degree soon after high school but must pursue a JD (for law) or MD (for business) after completing their undergraduate degree. If someone has a defined focus on these fields, they can pursue a pre-med or a pre-law course, but these are more introductory and less conclusive. However, there are some direct entry options for international students who wish to pursue medicine directly. The Rice/Baylor Medical Scholars Program is an example of the same and allows students to complete a BS + MD degree after direct enrollment.
Types of Institutions
There are multiple types of higher-level academic institutions for study in the United States with different levels of expertise and engagement with students. Some institutions like military schools and community colleges are not typically targeted by international students. These are the three distinct types of institutions most targetted by students seeking to build a global commercial, professional, or academic career.
National Universities: These are the most popularly applied to institutions. Typical examples include Harvard University (and other Ivy League schools), the University of California Berkeley (and other subsequent UC campuses), the University of Maryland (and other state-level universities). These universities have several ‘Schools’ or ‘Colleges’ functioning under them as autonomous institutions. Students apply to a College instead of applying for a major or university. For example- NYU has the Tandon School of Engineering, the Stern School of Business, the School of Arts & Sciences, and several other colleges for specialized subjects and degrees. National Universities typically have the largest composite student populations and offer degrees of all types- undergraduate courses, graduate programs, Ph.Ds, postgraduate diplomas and so on. Undergraduates can take up professional and semi-professional courses including business and engineering. Students here have the opportunity to engage with a broader academic community and learn from different schools comprising a university. However, the student teacher ratio is not as good as liberal arts schools or specialised schools, which makes them more attractive to some for undergraduate study.
Liberal Arts Schools: Liberal Art Schools are focused on providing an open-ended liberal arts education to young students. Examples of liberal arts schools include Williams College, Amherst College, Pomona College, Claremont McKenna College, and so on. They only provide undergraduate degrees and hence boast of having a better student-teacher ratio and a more personalised and contextualised approach to education. Students are encouraged to explore a diverse range of liberal arts and sciences through their four years of undergraduate studies and the emphasis on professional education is much lower. Hence they typically do not offer concentrations in business management and engineering.
Specialised Schools: These are academic institutions that are focused on providing specialised education along defined lines. Institutions have a particular focus, which could be art & design, business, or technology. Examples include Babson College (for Business), Pratt Institute and Rhode Island School of Design (for art & design), etc. These institutions provide degrees in both undergraduate and graduate programs. However, programs are typically limited to the university’s specialised focus. While there is an increasing emphasis on the inclusion of the liberal arts in the curriculum, the overall focus continues to be on developing students along specialised lines. These are fantastic for students who are committed to growing in artistic and technical fields.
Degrees at the Undergraduate Level
All Degrees at the undergraduate level in the US are 4 years long with the exception of associate degrees. However, certain combined and integrated programs might extend up to 7 years. Note that colleges often have unique approaches to designating degrees. This implies that the same program can be designated as B.S in certain institutions and B.Engg in others. Universities might also offer the same subjects under both the BA and BS designations. This is typically applicable to subjects including Psychology, Economics, Public Health and Business- depending on the specialisations and tracks chosen by students. Lastly, Business might be offered under a BBA or B.Com designation as well! Therefore, when you do plan to apply immerse yourself in research and consult experts- its a truly unique and exciting process to understand your prospective education plans, given how unique and interdisciplinary US undergraduate education is.
Associate Degrees: These are two-year-long degree programs. They do not culminate in the awarding of a ‘Bachelor’s’ degree. Associate degrees are offered mostly by community colleges and are typically not sought after by international students.
BA Degrees: ‘Bachelor’s in Arts’ Degrees are awarded to students who major in liberal arts fields including sociology, anthropology, political science, cultural studies and so on.
BS Degrees: ‘Bachelor’s in Sciences’ Degrees are awarded to students who major in the sciences, applied sciences or engineering fields. Subjects include physics, astronomy, biochemistry, mechanical engineering, etc.
B. Engg Degrees: Certain institutions designate their most technical courses under the ‘Baheclor’s in Engineering’ designation. Majors under this stream include bioengineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, etc.
BFA Degrees: ‘Bachelor’s in Fine Arts’ Degrees are awarded to students for visual and performing arts majors. BFA Degrees are practical approaches to subjects like fashion, theatre and dance. Whilst these courses might also be offered under a BA Designation, the differentiating factor is the differential emphasis on theoretical and practical aspects of these fields. For example- a BA theatre would focus more on understanding the sociology of theatre whilst a BFA degree would focus more on developing practical skills along specialisations ranging from acting to costume design.
Studying in the USA requires students to prepare profiles and applications rigorously for months before the deadline of submissions. While there are a number of course options available, students are likely to make a choice that turns out fruitful for them, only when they evaluate all available options carefully. Hence, it is beneficial for students to do all possible research on their end, and essentially avail systematic guidance and counselling, to understand prospects and avail the most promising and unique opportunities.
Written by Ms. Manya Bajaj – Jitin Chawla Team